The Shark Survivors Club – Nobody wants to join, but it’s better than the alternative

Nobody wants to join, but it’s better than the alternative

PHOTO BY MEL CAMU
PHOTO BY MEL CAMU

As Told To Paul Lebowitz

Northern California is home to kayak fishing's most exclusive society. The initiation fee is steep. No one pays it voluntarily. Every member of the Shark Survivor's Club has been knocked off his kayak by a charging great white and lived to tell the tale.

It is hard to imagine a more harrowing on-the-water emergency. Kayak Fish asked this crew to share what got them through the ordeal. If it works after a three-ton shark has thrown you and your 'yak high into the air, then returned to give your boat a toothy taste test, it has to be good:

You can't predict a shark strike or any other emergency. Kayak anglers should always be prepared. "It just happens. You can't plan on having a safe day," Shark Survivors Club member Mel Camu says.

Your kayak is your place of refuge. If it capsizes, you better know how to quickly right it and climb back on. Every Survivors Club member was out of the water within seconds. One swam to a nearby powerboat. The others self-rescued. Call it motivation. "Where else could I go? It was better than staying in the water with the shark," says one club member, who prefers to keep his name out of the limelight.

If your kayak is taking on water, you'll want supplemental floatation, a pump, the security of a nearby shoreline, or better yet all three. "I filled up every cranny of my boat with pool noodles. I think it would have supported me," says Camu. His kayak filled so completely with water, when a power boater towed it to a nearby pier it had to be drained before it could be lifted out of the water.

Dress for the water temperature, not the air. You never know when you'll go for an unplanned swim. "My farmer John wetsuit kept me warm. That was a big plus," Camu says.

A PFD is a lifesaver. Wear one. "My PFD shot me to the surface," says Adam Coca, who spent a few seconds trapped underwater against his kayak by the pressure of his shark's attack. In his case, the closest call of all, the extra flotation may have pulled him away from the shark's jaws.

If you can, remain calm, and think your way through the problem. "My VHF radio was on my PFD. I had to fumble with it for a second or two. My mind was racing. I needed to stop, collect myself and press the correct buttons to find 16," says Camu. Once he did, help was on the way.

Kayak fish with friends. It's good to have help close by. Harry Pali's friend Ted assisted him back on his 'yak. "He had brass cojones. He was shaking too," Pali says. Help might never be needed if you're fishing with a crew. "I paddled away from the large group we had that day, and I’m sure that act alone had something to do with my encounter," says Coca. And if you're out there and experienced, be ready to offer assistance. "That's one thing about NorCal Kayak Anglers. We're so safety conscious. When we have a situation on the water, everybody responds to the emergency," says Pali.

Follow your instincts. If your Spidey senses say it is time to go, listen. "Something hit me in the gut just before it happened. Conditions were deteriorating. I sensed it was time to go. I was turning around to tell Ted when I got slammed and went airborne," Pali says.